What does the idiom "ups and downs" mean?

Idioms are generally defined as groups of words that form a meaningful whole when they come together, even though the words in them do not make sense on their own. They have produced many idioms according to their own cultural characteristics in communities using the English language. What does ups and downs mean? In what situations is ups and downs used?

Meaning of "ups and downs"


The phrase 'ups and downs' is an English idiom that is used to describe the highs and lows of life. It is usually used to refer to a difficult or challenging situation which contains moments of both success and failure. In other words, the phrase is used to describe the challenge of trying to stay positive in the face of adversity, as life is often unpredictable and difficult.


The phrase 'ups and downs' has been used for many centuries and can be traced back to the 16th century. The earliest known use of the phrase was found in Thomas Moore's poem, 'The Ballad of Tim Hurley' from 1596, which reads: "Then truly 'tis time to turn up or down, For there's ups and downs in life's journey." The phrase has been used ever since, with its earliest recorded usage in print in the early 1800s.


The phrase 'ups and downs' is often used in informal, everyday speech. It is used to refer to a situation where someone is experiencing both positive and negative outcomes. It is often used to talk about life, work, and relationships or to describe a particular period in someone's life. For example, someone might say, “Life is full of ups and downs” or “I'm going through some ups and downs in my relationship.” The phrase can also be used in a more figurative sense, to describe the combined effect of joy and sorrow in a situation, for example, “There were ups and downs in the performance.”

Example Sentences

  • Life has its ups and downs, but in the end it's all about how you deal with them.
  • I'm not sure what to expect, there have been a lot of ups and downs in my job lately.
  • We've had a lot of ups and downs in the past few months, but we're still here and still strong.

The meanings of the words in the "ups and downs" idiom

The Global Spread of English Idioms

As English has become a global language, its idioms have spread far beyond the borders of the UK and USA. For instance, the idiom "beat around the bush" has equivalents in many other languages, such as "tourner autour du pot" in French and "dar vueltas al asunto" in Spanish. Meanwhile, other idioms have been adapted for local contexts, such as the Russian idiom "?? ???? ???????" (ne svoya rubashka), which translates to "not one's own shirt," meaning to be in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation.


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